Under the Tall, Tall Trees

Pine forests don’t belong in Southern Africa. Like countless other non-native plants and animals, pine trees were brought here by Europeans and continue to be cultivated on a large scale by paper and timber companies.

I’ve walked and driven through quite a few pine plantations in South Africa and Swaziland, and I usually find it depressing and disconcerting. The unnaturalness assaults my senses. It doesn’t help that the stands of tall pines are inevitably interspersed with barren hillsides dotted with jagged stumps, where trees have been recently been harvested. It’s the deadest African landscape you’ll ever see.

And yet, sometimes beauty hides in unlikely places. Late one autumn afternoon during a recent road trip to Swaziland, my friends and I stopped to take photos in a forest of gargantuan pine trees. On that particular day, at that particular time, those pine trees were magical.

The outer edge of the forest was typically devastating.

Life on one side, death on the other.

Under the trees, the aura changed. The three photographers among us scattered in different directions, each seeing the forest through our own lenses.

Can you spot my friend Mark? Can you spot me? Both of us are there.

I turned my camera upward at first.

Damn, those trees are tall.

I couldn’t get the shots I wanted from a standing position. So I laid right down on the pine needle floor and looked up.

My wide-angle lens makes the trees look even taller than they really are.

It was peaceful in there. I could barely hear the sound of cars passing on the highway. There were a few bird calls. I wonder what kinds of African birds adapt to living in pine forests?

I drew myself into a cross-legged position and looked out at the descending sun.

More wide-angle awesomeness.

Wide or tight, color or black-and-white: It was impossible to take an ugly photo of these trees.

If the height of the trees is any indication, this forest probably won’t be alive much longer. Soon it will be a wasteland like the field next to it, the massive logs hauled off to make newspapers. Maybe it’s even happened already — it’s been two weeks since our road trip.

But on that day, the forest was a beautiful living thing. I’m glad we stopped to visit it.

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26 Comments

  • Reply mehmudah June 8, 2012 at 9:15 am

    Excellent pics!

    • Reply 2summers June 8, 2012 at 9:23 am

      Thanks Mehmudah and Chuck!

  • Reply katarzynapawelczyk June 8, 2012 at 9:17 am

    Love these – NEEEEEED that wide angle in my life now

    • Reply 2summers June 8, 2012 at 9:22 am

      Yes you do. It will change your life.

  • Reply chuckv88 June 8, 2012 at 9:20 am

    Lovely stuff!

  • Reply Gary De Beer June 8, 2012 at 10:58 am

    Love forests too.

    It was my back yard when we lived on the edge of one in Pietermaritzburg as a kid. I spent many contemplative hours roaming an exploring.

    Thanks for the wonderful memory reminder.

    • Reply 2summers June 8, 2012 at 10:59 am

      You’re quite welcome, Gary.

  • Reply Mr Bunny Chow June 8, 2012 at 11:09 am

    very few native birds have adapted to living in pine forests with corvids (crow family) being a noteable exception. The invasive and ever present indian myna are also prolific in pine forests.

    Sadly pines leach the soils and as you can see there is very little undergrowth which also forces out small mammal and the reptiles who feed on them.

    The only blessing of pine is that it tends not to spread into other areas to the extent of other introduced tree’s like wattle which wreaks a devastating swathe across huge tracts of land surrounding areas it was originally introduced.

    Another group of introduced tree’s the eucalypts or gum trees of Australasia seem to be far more enviromentally friendly/compatible to the Southern African environs.

    hope this was of interest.

    • Reply 2summers June 8, 2012 at 11:30 am

      Thanks Mr. Bunny Chow, this is very much of interest (although very sad).

      I was surprised to hear birds calling when I was in that forest — they definitely weren’t crows or Indian miners. Must have been some other bird just passing through. If Jon had been with me I wold have known what the bird calls were. He was always my go-to source on this type of thing. 🙂

  • Reply derek June 8, 2012 at 11:47 am

    http://cli.ps/VmKb

  • Reply derek June 8, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    Nice photographs Heather

    The clip above refers to this post which I now have to repost as my computer went haywire

    As you state Pine is not indeginous to South Africa and are in essence grown as a cash crop that takes years to mature. The time for cutting a section is predetermined by a computer model based on the maximum yield per tree on average – then the whole section goes. If I remember correctly there’s a second cycle of growth from the same roots before the stumps are removed. SA Pine is basically rubbish only suitable for paper and cheap furniture. If you want to have a fascinating chat about pine trees and furniture making pay a visit to Manny at The Cottage in Main Road. Baltic pine is the best because it grows in cold climes and the grain is dense. Manny is into the movie prop business as well and have some intersting stuff like old Apartheid sign (Whites Only etc) that he won’t part with for love or money.

    I had the privilige of living in Sabie in the mid 80’s and had access to areas that was not open to the general public. I rememeber trout fishing the Sabie river at a spot named Poachers Paradise in the early morning with the mist hanging between the trees, Catching something was immaterial. It was the quietness of the forest and the possibility of seeing a small buck tippy toeing to the stream emerging like a silent spectre from the trees.

    Your photographs makes a think of a magical time and space in my life when I still thought I was immortal. I also reminds me of Norman Maclean’s beautifuil novella “A River Runs Through It” and in particular the closing paragraph;

    “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
    I am haunted by waters.”

    • Reply 2summers June 8, 2012 at 1:06 pm

      Wow Derek, that’s the most informative, beautiful blog comment I’e received in a very long time. Thank you. I would love to have a chat to Manny sometime — I’ve actually never been into the Cottage before.

      I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that so many houses in Joburg have “Oregon pine” floors. First off, it seems like such a weird idea to bring wood all the way to South Africa from Oregon, when there are so many perfectly good trees growing here. I also find it funny because in the U.S. we never specify where our pine comes from. Floors are just made of “pine” or “oak” or “cherry” or whatever. Here it seems to be Oregon pine or nothing.

      • Reply derek June 8, 2012 at 1:16 pm

        Gald you liked it – The Oregon label stuck to pine because it was shipped all the way from Oregon in the States but it’s plain old SA Pine – Manny gets frothy about this

        • Reply 2summers June 8, 2012 at 1:47 pm

          Oh really?! I didn’t know that.

  • Reply Lu June 8, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    Great photos Heather – I happen to love Pine Forests, whether or not they shouldn’t be where they ought to be. I also love to take photos of the pine needles (on smaller, younger trees, of course!)

    • Reply 2summers June 8, 2012 at 12:59 pm

      Yes, I think Mark got some nice macro shots of needles on some of the tiny trees growing below these big ones. They are very photogenic plants, native or not.

  • Reply buddhawithlove June 8, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    beautiful photos of pine trees thankz

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough June 8, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    Love the one you took once you’d laid down in the pine needles. What an amazing perspective! Hope you have a wonderful weekend, Heather.
    Hugs,
    Kathy

    • Reply 2summers June 9, 2012 at 10:22 am

      Thanks Kathy! That’s one of my favorites too. Have a lovely Saturday.

  • Reply buckwheatsrisk June 9, 2012 at 1:29 am

    such a gift you have!

  • Reply Fidell June 9, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    It amazes me that despite all this technology we have, human beings still feel the need to chop down trees for making products like paper out of them.
    Incredible photos Heather. I could only spot one person in that picture. Shows just how abundant and massive those trees are.

    • Reply 2summers June 9, 2012 at 1:13 pm

      It was kind of a trick question. My shadow is just barely visible — you can see the shadow of my lens and a piece of my arm in the lower-right corner 🙂

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